U.S. Court orders EPA to regulate ballast water and ship discharges

On 18 September 2006, a federal judge in the Northern California District issued an order requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop regulations governing all discharges from ships, including ballast water discharges, under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) authorised by the Clean Water Act (CWA) by no later than 30 September 2008 (approximately 2 years from now). Until then, all such discharges will continue to remain exempt from the NPDES permit system.


In 2003 members of the environmental community took the EPA to court for exempting effluent discharges "incidental to the normal operation of a vessel" from regulations under the NPDES permit system. In March 2005, the judge ruled in favour of the environmental community, but delayed a decision on what remedy would be most appropriate to address her decision.


In December 2005, a hearing was held to discuss the impacts of the judge's decision. An industry coalition consisting of INTERTANKO, the American Waterways Operators (AWO), the Chamber of Shipping of America (CSA), the World Shipping Council (WSC), the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) and the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) joined the lawsuit in support of the EPA in an effort to explain the technical and practical implications of the judge's decision. In addition, the industry coalition emphasised that the U.S. Congress had given the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) the authority to regulate ballast water discharges.


In issuing the order, the judge acknowledged that Congress had given the USCG authority to regulate ballast water discharges, but she felt that she could not overlook that Congress had also given EPA the authority to regulate such discharges under the CWA. The order specifically states that "EPA may be correct...that the Coast Guard (may be) the most appropriate agency to regulate vessel discharges. That judgement, however, was for the Congress, not this Court, to make."


The industry coalition is currently discussing this order with the EPA to determine the next steps that should be taken on this matter. This issue will be discussed at INTERTANKO's upcoming Executive Committee meeting to be held in Singapore on 26 September 2006.


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Contact: Joe Angelo